I have been a critic of CPAC for some time. It is mostly driven by sponsors who pay money who then get to set an agenda that is not always conservative. It has become more the Republican Political Action Conference than the Conservative Political Action Conference. But because CPAC is so identified with the conservative movement, occasionally conservatives should stand up and speak about its controversies. CPAC is run by the American Conservative Union (“ACU”), which in the past has lobbied for non-conservative positions because people in its leadership were paid lobbyists supporting the liberal position.
Likewise, sometimes ACU is blamed for supporting a position because the head of ACU is lobbying for a particular position. It provides convenience for different groups in that they can hire the lobbyist running ACU at the time to support a position, note he is the head of the ACU so it must be conservative, but then everyone can say ACU didn’t actually endorse the position when conservative realize their movement is being scammed.
A good example was when the former head of ACU lobbied on behalf of UPS and its union arrangement against FedEx, which did not use unions. FedEx was able to compete more effectively and the head of the ACU at the time was arguing against FedEx taking advantage of the free market. Likewise, we have seen leaders of ACU support the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” which has been pushed by Walmart and other retailers to raise taxes on Internet-based competitors. We’ve even seen ACU stand with former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter in the past.
This year, CPAC has invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak. Matt Schlapp, the head of the ACU, notes that Yiannopoulos is being asked to speak because of all the controversies on college campuses where the left is trying to deny Yiannopoulos the opportunity to speak. The invitation is about rebutting political correctness and defending free speech.
But would CPAC let Kimberly Peirce be a keynote? Kimberly Peirce is the liberal director of the 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry.” The movie starred Hillary Swank, who is not transgender, playing a transgender character. It was one of the first positive, sympathetic portrayals of transgenderism on film. Peirce has been shouted down at several college campuses, beginning with Reed College in Oregon, for having a non-transgendered actress play a transgendered person. The students have called Peirce transphobic for not hiring a transgendered person. The whole thing is ridiculous.
Despite being ridiculous, that is the standard ACU is using for Yiannopoulos.
Yiannopoulos has expressly said he is not a conservative. His entire schtick is about political correctness. He has championed the alt-right, despite claiming not to be a part of the alt-right. He has made more than his fair share of media attention getting incendiary comments, including about a Catholic priest and sexual relations between younger and older men, though he claims some tapes circulating were edited. The unedited bits appear problematic at best.
If CPAC’s criteria for inviting someone is just in opposition to political correctness, then Milo Yiannopoulos fits the bill. CPAC, like a lot of the right, has tended to have a harder time drawing crowds in eras of Republican dominance and this may be their way of filling seats.
The brand, however, should stand for something. If CPAC wanted to invite conservatives who have been targeted by opponents of free speech, they could have given the keynote to someone like David Daleiden, whose Center for Medical Progress was sued for exposing Planned Parenthood.
ACU knows that Yiannopoulos is not a conservative, or they should since he has said he is not repeatedly. The senior citizen core of ACU is now going to be targeted by ACU critics with Yiannopoulos’s own words on sex, Catholic priests, etc. And not a bit of this will advance conservatism.
This is just another year where ACU cashes in on conservative crowds without doing anything to really advance the conservative cause.